‘My parents are Greek and I was born in Egypt in Alexandria. Came out here when I was eight or nine.’
Spiros migrated to Victoria in the mid-1950s with his parents and older brother. His father was a violent man who would brutally beat both boys. ‘When I was a kid my father used to tie my hands around my back, and my brother as well, throw us out the front, and whip the crap out of us with his belt … but I still love him because he’s my dad.’
At school Spiros endured regular bullying and racist taunts from his teachers and fellow students alike. At one stage he was caught stealing a bicycle and was sent to juvenile detention for two weeks. When he returned to school he continued to fight with other students, and his teachers frequently gave him the strap while withholding education. As a result, Spiros became a truant and was eventually expelled.
When he was 16 years old, Spiros was caught shoplifting and sentenced to 12 months detention at a boys’ home run by the Salvation Army. There he found fighting and racism was even more endemic than at school.
‘I was in so many fights … Just people don’t like you and calling you names and all that. And I was the sort of a kid that wanted to stand up for myself.’
For the first three months of his sentence Spiros had numerous bullies to contend with. By the fourth month, two of the Salvation Army Sergeants, Carter and Shanahan, as well as a civilian staff member Mr Abbott, decided to discipline Spiros for his frequent fighting.
Spiros was called into the office where Mr Abbott and Sergeant Carter held him down while Sergeant Shanahan anally raped him. On subsequent occasions, Spiros was beaten and raped by all three men and made to masturbate in front of them.
Spiros does not remember exactly how many times the abuse occurred but he believes it was approximately four or five times.
‘I would still see his [Sergeant Shanahan’s] face after 50 years, would you believe? ... I could still remember him undoing his belt and he goes “Yeah it’s going to happen every time you get into a fight”.'
‘I knew it was wrong. I just said to myself “How can they do this to me?” I didn’t know it was a crime. I mean, I’m only 16. Two years out of my shorts. How would you know? Well, I didn’t.’
Spiros was backed into a corner. He had to defend himself from attacks by other boys, but fighting then led to abuse from the Sergeants and Mr Abbott. Spiros had no one he could disclose the abuse to, and even if he did tell someone he knew there would be serious repercussions.
‘They never ever said don’t tell anyone or anything. And I was too ashamed to sort of say anything to anyone and that. I mean, the first time that it happened I was devastated. What I felt inside of me was, I said to myself “How could this happen like this? Who are they, the mongrels, doing things like that?” I was furious. And I said to myself “Who could I tell?” I can’t go and tell anybody in there that works with them because they’re only gonna get back and that’s gonna make it worse.’
The abuse continued for approximately three months but eventually stopped when boys stopped picking fights with him. Around this time Spiros demonstrated he was a talented cricket player by winning an award as the institution’s ‘best batsman’. He believes this may have had something to do with the abuse ending.
As the years went by, Spiros had several relationships with women which resulted in two children. But he never disclosed the abuse to anyone and tried to bury it.
‘The abuse and stress and anxiety all my life, and I still got it now. It’s unbelievable really. All these years.’
Spiros never felt comfortable telling anyone about the abuse because he was certain no one would believe him. ‘When things like that happen to you, who do you trust? You don’t trust anybody and that goes through life. When you start early and something like that happens to you, you say to yourself “Look you can’t trust anybody. Everybody’s a danger to you”. And that’s the fact.’
More than 50 years have passed and Spiros has finally felt comfortable telling his story after seeing the media coverage of the Royal Commission’s public hearings.
‘It’s been 51 years, and to me they sort of got away with it because I didn’t even think it’ll ever, ever come up or come out in the open. I thought I’m just stuck with it all my life and that’s my little thing and nothing will come out of it, you know. Until now.’
Spiros doesn’t trust the police and does not want to report the abuse he suffered all those years ago. ‘What’s the use? To me there’s no value. I mean, what are they gonna do if I report it to them and that? What are they gonna do about it? …
‘I never ever thought this would come out in the open or anything ... And whether anything comes out of it or not at least I’ve got it off my chest and I’ve spoken to people about it, which I’m grateful for.’